Ultratravel - The smartest time to visit Europe’s hotspots? The off-season
Winter 2014

Europe’s busiest tourist destinations? We prefer the off-season.


Before Carnevale, Italy’s waterside city has fewer crowds jostling on its streets and bridges. It also has a melancholy beauty in this misty month and, on January 5, hosts hosts the traditional Regata delle Befane, a boat race for over-fifties who dress up as La Befane, a folkloric witch.
Stay at the Aman Canal Grande Venice.


The tourist bottlenecks have cleared, so it’s a great time to see exhibitions. Catch the final month of the Chiostro del Bramante’s superb retrospective of Dutch artist MC Escher, and fill up on pizza ebraica (fruit and nut cake) at Roman-Jewish bakery Il Boccione.
Stay at the Hotel de Russie.


The city is just coming into bloom in early spring and you have space to enjoy the galleries. See an exhibition by painter Pierre Bonard at the Musee d’Orsay, followed by lunch in the pretty dining room, and macaroons at the nearby Boulangerie Gosselin.
Stay at Peninsula Paris.


Browse the Czech capital’s cobbled streets and take in the views from the Charles Bridge without having to share them with dozens of hen parties. Visit the serene museum of medieval art, the Convent of St Agnes. Avoid the city at Easter.
Stay at the Mandarin Oriental.


Barcelona is best after Easter and before June. Even the Museu Picasso, which is packed in summer, is bearable in May. Take advantage of the quieter vibe for a leisurely browse around the city’s slick fashion boutiques, such as Coquette and La Comercial.
Stay at Hotel Arts.

St Tropez

Come before the superyachts and crocodile tans arrive. Just ahead of the summer season, the weather is warm and there’s a frisson in the air, but the town still feels authentically French and pleasantly relaxed. Watch boules in the Place des Lices and savour a lobster lunch at Senequier Café.
Stay at White 1921.

Val d'Isere

Although this is, for many, the ultimate winter playground, this French resort is sensational in summer, too. Go canoeing, canyoning and climbing, white-water rafting and hydro-speeding (body-boarding down rapids). There’s also Europe’s highest race -- the Ice Trail Tarentaise, a gruelling high-altitude marathon.
Stay at the Marco Polo chalet.


The lift queues can be horrific in winter but after the snows melt this village slows down and attracts hikers and bikers. And no wonder -- Verbier has 28 marked cross-country itineraries, and more than 200 miles of mountain-bike routes. Enjoy Valais home0cooking at Le Namaste.
Stay at the W.


The children are back at school, the tour buses have gone and the fields have taken on an autumnal hue. September, when the grape and olive harvests begin, is a beautiful month. Watch a thrilling palio in Castel del Piano -- an alternative to the famous, but packed, one in Siena.
Stay at Monteverdi.


After the superclubs shut their doors, a quiet, laidback, natural vibe reigns on this Balaeric isle. Explore Ibiza Town, with its 13th-century castle and boho galleries, in peace, and go bird-watching in Salinas National Park, where you can see flamings, black-winged stilts, marsh harriers and snowy plovers.
Stay at Atzaró.


The sea is still warm enough to swim in -- Cyprus is blessed with one of the longest summers in Europe. Explore the hiking trails in the Troodos Mountains, which have dozens of Byzantine churches, such as Asinou with its magnificent 12th-century frescoes, which you can enjoy in solitude.
Stay at Anassa.


Stroll beside the Arno at the only time of year when locals outnumber tourists. The city offers fine winter gastronomy: try risotto with cauliflower and quail at Il Santo Bevitore and savour fine wines at Cantinetta Antinori.
Stay at Four Seasons.